Hayes Believes Flyers Playoff Run Put Them On the Map
As the Flyers enter the 2020-21 season, they start off another season with greater expectations than they have had in years.
Sure, making the playoffs has been a constant expectation for the players and fans for years, but after getting on a hot streak from January to March, returning to play with three straight wins to secure the top seed in the playoffs, and winning their first playoff series since 2012, things have changed.
The Flyers were one of the final eight teams playing in the 2019-20 season. They were one win away from reaching the conference finals. At the time of the pause in March, where the regular season ultimately ended, they were sixth in the league in points and one point out of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
For Kevin Hayes, a newcomer to the Flyers last season, this was the reason he had signed in Philadelphia. He wanted a chance to win and saw the potential the Flyers really offered as a key part of their success, and he believes that last season's playoff run is only scratching the surface.
“I signed with the Flyers last year because I knew they had a great team. Some could argue that we did a little better than expected. I thought we were going to be a great team,” Hayes said. “Now, we’ve kind of put our names out there for the league. Everyone knows when they enter our building, in front of our fans, obviously there’s no fans this year, but it’s a tough building to get two points in. [Carter Hart] feels comfortable playing on that ice. We’re a tough team at home. Obviously we have some shoes to fill that we didn’t last year. We put our name on the map. I think everyone kind of relished it. They were really excited with how our season went. I think [Alain Vigneault] said yesterday that everyone should be really, really excited, players, coaches, fans and media.”
The presence of Hart has certainly helped the Flyers cause as well. Having a go-to netminder that helped guide the Flyers to successful results, notably in the first-round series win against Montreal, and further elevates the expectations.
Another reason the expectations may be higher is that the Flyers are bringing back nearly all of the players that were part of the team a year ago. The possibility of adding Oskar Lindblom full-time again and getting back a healthy Nolan Patrick could become huge additions.
The Flyers are dealing with the loss of one player who had a critical role last season. It was certainly a shock when Matt Niskanen announced his retirement this offseason, and it will hurt the Flyers to lose such a dependable and steady player on the back-end who also provided leadership.
Hayes feels that leadership comes in many forms and the Flyers have many players who are already leaders or ready to step up and be leaders.
“Nisky wasn’t that big of a vocal leader honestly. He was a lead by example type of guy. You guys saw that all year. I think we have players that will play like him,” Hayes said. “I always said this last year, every player in our locker room should want to be a leader, whether it’s saying the right things and doing the right things or just going on the ice and working our [tail] off until everyone notices. It is guys like that that are really easy to follow into battle.
“[Claude Giroux]’s one of the hardest working guys. That’s a thing I didn’t know about him before I signed here. You see him in practice and he’s easy to follow. Jake [Voracek]’s the same way. Our core group there, they all lead differently but they do a great job and in a great manner. I try to help and do the same thing. We still have older guys that lead the way and young guys that want to learn from that. We have young guys that believe in year one and want to do more and produce more in year two. Should be a good combination.”
There will likely be more eyes on the Flyers this season, both locally and nationally. The expectations will be high for a team that certainly started to capture the city’s attention during a strange summer that produced the longest playoff run in years.
Making the playoffs should be an obvious expectation for the Flyers. For the better part of the last decade, they have gone back and forth with playoff appearances. Putting together a bit of a run should be an expectation too, especially after finally giving fans a reason to be excited for playoff hockey last season.
Like Hayes said, the Flyers are on the map again. They are a team that will get more attention and be expected to go farther this season. In a shortened season, a lot can happen, and it will be up to the leadership of this team, from top to bottom, to keep the Flyers on the map.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.